By Lucy Wyndham

The current pandemic has had a big impact on businesses across the U.S. and North Dakota is no exception, with many small business owners engaged in an uphill battle for survival. In September 2020, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce would be investing $6.8 million in Cares Act funding to help small businesses in North Dakota respond to the challenges posed by C19. The investments announced include recovery assistance to the Lake Agassiz Regional Council, the Grand Forks Growth Fund, the Souris Basin Planning Council, the North Central Planning Council, and the Lewis & Clark Regional Development Council. Taking advantage of crucial aid is key if businesses wish to survive (at least short-term) in the post-COVID world. But in order to thrive in the long-term, many will also need to make key changes that may include major changes to their respective business models.

Embracing the ND Smart Restart Plan

North Dakota Response has a plethora of resources delicate to helping businesses adapt to C19. It offers businesses free ND ‘Smart Restart’ protocols to create safer environments for employees, employers, and customers. The protocols include guidelines covering the reopening of restaurants, bars, food trucks, and similar; personal services; recreational centers, banquets and wedding venues, large gatherings, and the like. There is a free business toolkit containing practical items such as restaurant table signs, C19 business supply lists, and a workplace assessment tool designed to help management develop policies and procedures to respond to the health crisis. The aim of most of these resources is to reduce contagion among employees, maintain safe business operations, and build a healthy work environment.

Going Digital

A Tech Pro survey reveals that prior to the start of the pandemic, around 70% of businesses in the U.S. were keen to embark on a digital transformation owing to factors such as greater opportunities for growth and the need to keep up with competitors growing their own online presence. Businesses must respond quickly to C19 by providing products and/or services digitally if they haven’t done so before, since the new ‘working from home economy’ has led to a big change in how consumers interact with suppliers.

McKinsey reports that the US as a whole has “vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks.” From banks to grocery stores, schools to gift shops, savvy business owners are developing plans to continue serving clients even though their respective ‘brick and mortar’ stores have closed temporarily. North Dakota is one state that has been achieving this transformation without a hitch. Grand Forks Herald reports that ND’s sales tax revenue from online retailers ballooned by a whopping 500% in April and the online boon is far from slowing down.

Reinventing Businesses

ND businesses should also take time to analyze the need for important changes in areas such as procedures and roles. Many businesses will continue to give greater importance to online sales in the era of new normality, meaning that staff may need to be shifted around or retrained to adopt new or additional roles. Customers may also show dramatic changes in their values, interests, and needs in post-COVID markets. Businesses will need to give due importance to marketing research into the changing nature of their industry and how to adapt to new demands.

They may also need to make changes to their supply chain. The Wall Street Journal reports, for instance, that manufacturers beleaguered by supply interruptions at the start of the pandemic are considering increasing their supply sources. This is in an effort to limit the ability of individual blockages to interrupt production and manufacture.

North Dakota businesses have been strongly impacted by C19, with many having to make key changes fast in order to survive. Entrepreneurs and organizations should consider taking advantage of government aid, but also work on key strategies for the future. These may include strengthening their online presence and considering how to reduce potential interruptions to supply. It may also involve rethinking everything from products and services offered to the roles undertaken by members of staff.